I think the saying “Everyone loves a parade” rings true, especially at Memorial Day across small-town America. My hometown of Union City is noted across the area for the grand parade they put on each year and this year was no exception.
Many businesses, local farmers, clubs, charities and individuals turn out for the event. Even the local post office was represented. I have a personal reason to be extra proud this year. I know many families have multiple generations taking part in the parade, but this was the third year in a row that four of my family members across three generations have participated with a parade entry that had its beginnings back in the 1980s.
My Uncle Harold decided around 1982 that he would make a 1/3-scale model of a Model T Ford (or maybe a Model A, the family is still debating this one) to drive in parades. He started out with a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine, bicycle tires and some sheet metal. In his spare time he bent all the metal by hand to form the hood, doors and rumble seat cover. Thus, “Little Willy” (not a clue why he chose this name) was born.
Unfortunately, he passed on before he could complete the car. Jim and I bought Little Willy at his estate auction and, as things go, life got in the way and the car sat for 20 years in our barn until Jim retired and had time to work on it. But getting it to run properly entailed a little bit more ingenuity than our expertise could muster. Thanks to four local guys, namely Tom Evans, Jerry Carman, Bernie Bennett and Marv Carman, who like to tinker with projects with motors, “Little Willy” was up and running without a glitch for the 2014 Union City parade.
It wasn’t without some good engineering though. First and foremost, they put in a brand new motor to beef up the horsepower. After that it gets rather technical, but they had to change things like the gear ratio to get more speed and changed it to hydrostatic drive, thus eliminating shifting. Compared to 4-wheelers and other motorized toys, “Little Willy” still brings up the rear, but in its own right it does putt right along now.
It was like a never-ending project with these guys. They would get one problem fixed and then think of some other neat thing they wanted to do to it. They were having so much fun that they didn’t want to call it done. They carried this through right on to the paint scheme. Of course, the car itself is black and “Little Willy” is in gold lettering across both doors. Uncle Harold was a bachelor and lived with my grandmother who was not fond of his project at all. So, quite appropriately, across the back of the seat above the mounted spare tire the slogan reads “Uncle Harold’s Dream, Grandma’s Nightmare.”
Our grandson Wyatt Hoffman has driven it all three years. The first year his brother Wade threw the candy. This year Little Willy has a big brother as we bought a Polaris Ranger to use around the yard and ride trails. So we also took that to the parade and our son Jim drove it with my Jim riding shotgun. Wade and his friend Brady Katz had candy-throwing duty in the back of the Ranger while Lyndsey Katz partnered with Wyatt.
I mention these names because I see a blossoming pattern here. What started out as a small family project soon involved friends and then those friends involved other friends and it kept going. This is really what life is all about. Sad to say, but this usually doesn’t happen in a city. Those of us fortunate enough to live in a small town really do have an advantage to feeling connected.
What a thrill to see three generations of my family not only in the parade together but getting ready for the parade and sharing like interests. Uncle Harold would be so proud. Sometimes small pleasures are the best.